Thoroughbred Francis

What do you get when you have the chiropractor out to make your horse feel good, but then they get stuck in their stall for two days because of the snow?

You get a Francis who is acting like a bona fide TB. No more WB. Just TB.

Now, I don’t mean OMG HE WAS CRAZY AND FAST. Because our barn is full to the gills of TBs and OTTBs, and exactly zero of them are crazy or fast. Including the babies right off the track. Also can you imagine Francis being crazy? Because I can’t (even his foolishness is not crazy).

IMG_1981.png
Nooo, I is never naughty

But he was very much in the mentality of YOU WANNA PULL I WILL PULL RIGHT BACK LADY. And it wasn’t malicious or cranky, he was just feeling really good and wanted to go do his thang.

He was a very good boy warming up, pushing from behind and quite responsive. A titch fast at the canter- our lengthenings felt a little more lengthy than usual, and our collections felt a little more bouncy than usual too- but he felt nice and bendy and bouncy. All good things.

He bounded over a crossrail a few times to warm up, then we switched directions, and he did his fun root-n-play move around our next course. Meaning I just kinda slipped my reins, kept my leg on, and gave extra big releases over the fences to reward his big effort. Useful to work through together? Yes. AIN’T NO FUN THO.

IMG_1110
“You’re not exactly a barrel of laughs all the time either, lady”

So the next course, I was determined to not pick a fight. I was not going to engage. I was going to stay super duper soft through my hands, keep a steady leg, and a light seat.

And all of a sudden, happy Francis was right there with me, cantering around so softly and turning left like a dang professional.

I got a head toss in the next course when I used too much hand.

And then as soon as I softened at him, he softened right back. Lovely little stride, stepping under, straight through his body. Absolutely delightful.

I think absolutely none of this is groundbreaking stuff for anyone, but it was certainly an adjustment in how I usually have to ride my horse. He’s always been a “more” type of horse- add more leg, take more feel, get in the driving seat. He’s such a chill dude that any urgency has to come from me. So getting to practice that softness without sacrificing the strength was a majorly useful exercise for both of us.

10
THROW AWAY THE REINS. BUT NOT LIKE, ALL THE WAY. BUT A LOT OF THE WAY. NOT THAT MUCH. MAYBE MORE THO. IDK.

I’m really happy with how he feels after getting adjusted- the chiro mentioned that he noticed some tightness in his back and pelvis, and he feels noticeably looser and more flexible under saddle now. We’re also working with our saddle fitter to get things 100% perfect on that front (we’re getting closer!), he’ll continue to get chiro semi-regularly, I may look into massage, and our vet is coming out in April to do a full exam and a lameness locator baseline evaluation. He’s going to compare these to his notes from Frankie’s pre-purchase to see what/if any changes have taken place, and we’ll decide from there what strategy we’ll pursue moving forward.

So we’re coming at this wellness thing from several angles, and I’m really excited about it. I want to make sure he’s feeling 100% in every way before asking him to jump into a busy show season, and my trainers are completely on board with that. They’ve agreed that the outcomes of all these measures will determine what our show season looks like- Frankie will tell us what kind of workload he can comfortably support.

On that note, I am incredibly grateful for the team of people that works to keep Frankie feeling his best. My trainers could be making more money off of me by pushing me to compete, but they always put Frankie’s health and happiness above everything else. They’re not just fantastic coaches and trainers, but excellent role models for good horsemanship. Our vet cares so deeply about the horses, and has never tried to throw unnecessary treatments at us. Our farrier is just straight up ridiculously competent. There’s this whole crew of amazingly knowledgeable people working in concert to make sure the horses aren’t just sound, but happy and healthy and enjoying their work.

It looks like our next show is penciled in for the end of May, so I’m excited to spend the next couple months honing in hard on Frankie’s well-being. Add in some hacks around the neighborhood once it warms up, and I think we will have a majorly strong, flexible, happy, goofy, fancy show horse on our hands.

IMG_2194.jpg
And the cutest show horse. Always the cutest.
Advertisements

Earth to Francis

We all know that Frankie is a perfect angel, right? Never does anything remotely bad, is rock solid 100% of the time?

Frankie decided to use this cold snap to remind me that he is not, in fact, the pretty pony on the merry-go-round. He is a horse. With opinions (even if they rarely make an appearance).

It started last weekend in my lesson- we warmed up on the flat just fine, popped over a few crossrails, and then the wheels fell off. Frankie discovered that when he sneezed, rooted, and humped his back just so, he could pull the reins right out of my hands. LIKE A JERK.

We would head up to a jump (tiny ones in short courses bc omg cold), he would canter up like a normal horse, jump it like a horse who has done this a thousand times, then his brain would fall out his butt and he would land porpoising until I pulled him up in a heap.

Every. Time.

IMG_1846.jpg
MAHM MUST PLAY

And I won’t pretend to any startling feats of bravery here: while I never felt unseated, it definitely did kick some nerves into play. It didn’t feel dangerous, just entirely unenjoyable and yucky. For that lesson, we ended up doing a bunch more flatwork to get our brains back in our skulls and get my own body to stop emitting PANIC vibes.

Listen, I get it: the temp had plummeted, he hadn’t gotten much turnout time for a few days, it was windy, all these things would make any horse fresh. And all things considered, it wasn’t dangerous or malicious behavior- it was a fit horse with a lot of excess energy that simultaneously wanted to play but also get out of work. It isn’t hard to figure out why this happened.

Still annoying as hell tho.

Fast forward to Thursday, which was equally cold and gross and turnout-less. In the interest of self-preservation, I asked Trainer if I could lunge Francis for 10-15 min before hopping on to let him move out and warm up and let out any silliness. And yes, if you were wondering: this was my first time lunging him. Homeboy hasn’t really needed it in the past.

Luckily, his unicorn status held and he lunged like he does it every day (after a quick reminder that coming into the middle is invasive and rude and not allowed). I say luckily, because I spent most of the time trying to organize the line and half-heartedly clucking at him. Good boy Francis.

So I hopped on, very pleased that we had warmed him up and let him work out some energy.

Until we cantered and he remembered that rooting and pulling and humping was super fun last time. DANGIT FRANCIS NOT AGAIN.

So we borrowed a gag converter from AT and set off again.

gag converter
Example: it goes through the bit rings and up through the brow band, then a second set of reins attaches and gives the gag action.

And the next time he tried to dive down, we had a bit of an Earth To Francis moment with the leverage. Which he did not like. So he cantered like a normal horse in a straight line. And then tried again. Earth To Francis. Rinse. Repeat. Multiple times in each direction.

IMG_1841.png
MAHM NO STAHP

Eventually he realized that the pressure only hit when he was acting the fool, so he stopped acting the fool. We did a few little courses to confirm that we had a balanced, thinking horse under us, then called it a day.

And I promptly went out and ordered my own gag converter.

I will say, I actually liked the feeling of the gag more than the three-ring we tried before. Especially with the double reins, it was easy to engage when I needed a little extra lightness in the front end, and chuck away when we were doing fine- by our last mini-course, I didn’t need to engage it at all. I plan on using the converter for a while, then potentially getting a regular gag bit to try out. We shall see.

The countdown is on for WEC! 43(ish) days until Frankie and I head west for a few weeks.

Coming up soon: telling you all about my AMAZING Secret Santa gift, some product reviews of things that are making my winter hibernation more bearable, and continued ramblings from yours truly.

IMG_1842.PNG
See, we can be cute

 

A Little Leverage

So for my birthday, we tried out a new bit with Francis- specifically, the bit that AT uses with him when she rides. It’s a copper mouth French-link elevator, as such:

elevator bit
Just with a copper mouth

We started out with my main rein on the snaffle ring and the curb rein on the first ring down, to give me a change to get used to having a little leverage. From a mouthpiece standpoint, I did really like the French link- it felt like Frankie was softening to it a bit more than either the plain snaffle or the slow twist I’ve used in the past.

After warming up a bit and getting my “sea hands” so to speak, we took off the curb and then moved my main rein down so we could test this out for real. Overall I do really like it- it’s definitely a big adjustment for me in how I need to ride and it was far from perfect, but it did give us some tools that I was happy about.

The trot work in this was…eh. Francis was bracing and we had to focus on lots of bending and take-release-take-release for him to realize that while I wasn’t going to just hang on his face, I did expect him to carry himself upright and not hang on me in return. The canter work was a lot better, which I wasn’t surprised by. His canter is naturally his best gait, and he’s always had much better carriage and balance in the canter than in the trot no matter what bit is in his mouth. It was much easier for me to keep a light touch on the reins, give with that inside hand a bit more, and allow him to carry me without as much of a “discussion” on who has to hold his head up.

Then it was time to jump, and in this lesson we focused on some more interesting turns with the jumps set low. I was a bit surprised while we were warming up- Frankie was really cracking his back and putting in an effort over the crossrails we were trotting, which is rare for him. I actually got caught off guard a couple times and got a little left behind, so I tried to make sure I slipped my reins when that happened so he didn’t get punished in the mouth for doing his job.

After warming up, here was our first course:

dec21_lesson1

So we trot in the crossrail on the rail, rollback to the box, turn left and long approach down to the little oxer, canter up the long side, and then go straight down the middle by slicing- either a direct 2 or a teeny shaped 3.

My goal was to ride the first jump BEFORE riding the turn, which meant packaging him up and not throwing my shoulders at him. The rollback went much better when we stopped trying to get perpendicular to the jump and instead sliced it straight towards the end of the ring. The long approach was just fine, and he opened up his step nicely to put the two strides in the middle line.

With this new bit, my focus was to release more with my hands both over fences and in between, and rely more on my legs. It gives me great shortening ability and I don’t want to accidentally shorten too much. It doesn’t come second-nature yet, but that focus on controlling his stride from my seat and legs more intensely gave us much better turns and control of that shoulder.

Here was our other course:

dec21_lesson2

So short approach down the box, up the outside line in a flowing three, down the oxer sliced right to left to give us room to turn up the center line to do that in a flowing two the other direction.

I tend to have a tough time coming out of that corner up to 2, so we ended up getting a bit of a chocolate chip- but he listened fantastically and opened up to put the three in without a problem anyways. We had set jump 3 a little bigger to give him a chance to stretch and he jumped it really nicely.

IMG_1619.png
Well, nice is a strong word. Still cute tho.

Then the last part of the course was good- I didn’t keep as straight as I should’ve going up the center so it got a bit gappy, but not terribly ugly.

Overall this lesson was a really good test of working with some leverage. It’ll take some time for both of us to adjust and fine-tune with this new tool, but I do think it’s a great option for us to explore. My big concern is that I’m used to carrying a certain amount of weight with the snaffle, and with this I need to carry much less weight for a similar response. I like that I can be lighter with him and that he seems to like the mouthpiece, so now it’s just a matter of training myself to feel his responses and tweak how I carry my hands accordingly. Especially when we get him fired up and jumping the big jumps, I think this is a step in the right direction to have something that he seeks the contact with and is gentle on his mouth, but still gives me the control to get the adjustability we’ll need to safely get around.

Flying up to Rhody tonight for Christmas with the fam, and I can’t wait to see them all! Stay safe on all of your travels!

Grids on grids on grids

While I’m still totally reveling in the fact that I’ve conned an actual Prince Charming into marrying me, I’ve also been having some great rides with my four-legged prince! Our last couple lessons have been gymnastic-focused. You all know how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE gymnastics!

Last week we didn’t do anything too crazy- my lungs have been taking a stupid long time to recover from my swamp illness, and I’ve been riding inconsistently, so we kept the jumps fairly low and just worked on building some strength back.

Which means that after going through a couple times, Trainer had me drop my stirrups. Which honestly- I don’t mind. It forces my balance to be more centered and my leg actually stays a lot more stable since I can’t brace against the stirrup. I keep threatening to go in the show ring without my stirrups since I ride so much more correctly. It’s annoying.

I jokingly asked Trainer if she wanted me to drop my reins too, which clearly she immediately said yes to. I mean I wasn’t doing a ton with them anyways- Frankie knows that his job is to continue through the grid, so it’s not like I was steering. Hands on hips it was! Like an absolute bro, Francis carried me right on through a couple times and let me strengthen my balance.

IMG_1549.jpg
Apparently hands on hips means chicken wings. Also I know the jump isn’t huge but maybe put in a little bit of effort dude.

I then pressured Trainer into letting me join an extra lesson this week, since I so rudely did not get one on Saturday. Clearly the whole day was a wash.

This was another gymnastic lesson, but we switched it up a bit. We wanted to try and address some of Frankie’s very prominent left drift (which is made even more prominent by my disgustingly weak left leg). So I carried a dressage whip on my left through the grid.

Francis was also freshly clipped and had lots of gas in the tank during our warmup. Well, at the trot. By the time we moved into our canter work, he remembered that holding still is more fun than not holding still. But I actually rode without a crop or spurs for the first time and we kept moving! So I’d consider that spicy in FrancisWorld.

Another thing you should know is that Frankie jumps SO MUCH BETTER when he’s annoyed. You may remember back at Zone Finals where we riled him up for our second warmup and got much better work from him. He doesn’t buck or bolt or spook or sass when he’s pissed off- he just jumps out of his skin. He’s literally a unicorn, it’s the actual best response ever. And you know what really annoys him? Being smacked behind my leg. It doesn’t need to be a big smack. It can be a little tickle from a dressage whip. Nothing gets him pinning his ears and cracking his back quite like it.

So between a new haircut and that dressage whip in my hand, Francis went through that grid with the roundest bascule I’ve ever felt from him. It was SUCH fantastic energy firing off the ground! He was pretty sure life was miserable DESPITE LITERALLY NOTHING BEING DIFFERENT BECAUSE I BARELY TOUCHED HIM WITH THE WHIP but it was an awesome workout for him and good practice getting the fire in his step.

Naturally, we jacked the last jump up to give him a bit of a challenge- a nice square oxer that we set up at 4′. He just flew. It was amazing. Trainer let me go back and do it again, but the deal was that I couldn’t have my stirrups. He still flew, and took me with him. Landed cantering away casually while I was up there grinning like an idiot. I swear, jumping over colorful sticks with this creature is the best feeling in the entire world.

This all made me that much more excited to try some bigger tracks with him. He clearly has the scope for it, he was barely trying over that last oxer. And now that we’ve figured out that he jumps much more correctly (and therefore much more safely) once we rile him up a bit, I think we’ll be able to up the ante on course. This will never be his “normal,” but it’s something we can practice.

He definitely gets very strong when he’s like that, but at the same time he’s so much more adjustable since we have all that impulsion from behind. We’ll need to play around with bits to give us something that gives me the leverage to channel this energy without backing him off. We have a couple good ideas that we’re going to test.

His favorite little barn rat will give him some rides while I go up north for Christmas, then we’re counting down to WEC! We’ll probably fit in one local show to do the 3′ eq and one B one-day to do the Highs in January as our kickoff to the season, then it’s off to Ohio for two weeks. I. Can’t. Wait.

If I don’t talk to y’all before then, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, very happy holidays, and get to spend lots of time with the people and creatures you love!

Slicez 4 Dayz

You already know it’s been pretty quiet on the lesson front lately due to travel and enough mucus buildup to last me three lifetimes, but Frankie and I got some good work in last week.

Our warmup was pretty standard, lots of lengthenings and shortenings to make sure we were speaking the same language. We threw in some really tight circles at the canter to test our ability to sit down and push out of the turns- I kept making moderately smallish sized ones and Trainer challenged me to ask harder for some tougher turns so that we aren’t just doing what we always do. It was a great reminder that we can and should up the ante with expectations around our flatwork! It ended up being really useful practice of helping each other balance and maintain the power even through tight turns- setting us up with some super useful jumpoff skillz.

IMG_1514.jpg
Unrelated he’s just really cute at posing in the snow

We started off with a few crossrails to start limbering up, then did an exercise where we trotted a crossrail across the diagonal, cantered through the end of the ring, cantered up a small vertical across the diagonal the other way, then halted in a straight line. We had to remember to ride the jump before the halt- when I started picking too much trying to get a small jump, we ended up having a messy chip and then the halt was harder because we were unbalanced. Once we got some RPMs going and jumped out of stride with more power, the halt came up much more easily because of how balanced he was between my leg and hand.

Then it was gymnastic time! Here’s the grid:

slant gymnastic

Yessirree, the jumps were set this way on purpose! The centers were all set a steady one stride apart- and by steady I mean short. Any attempt to give yourself some room by jumping one side would just screw you over in the next stride- there were definitely a few bounces thrown in there by some of the more exuberant jumpers.

IMG_1487.jpg
Straight shot down the middle

Despite a persistent left drift to singles, Francis knows that his job through grids is to go straight until explicitly told otherwise, and he rocked this grid like a pro. Our challenge was finding the right pace in- too much, and we made it harder to fit the smaller steps in. Too little, and we lurched over the first fence and became unbalanced.

Since the strides were so short, there was no time for jump-recover-jump-recover etc. They were all set quite low anyways, so the key was to have truly independent aids- a light seat, leg supporting straightness, and a following hand that still maintained a contact. You know, all really basic stuff that is super easy and I can do in my sleep. HAH.

IMG_1498.jpg
Also unrelated, my adopted snarky barn mom/bestie

The last time through was definitely the best, and earned a “that looked downright educated!” from Trainer. We had a balanced powerful stride in, and I was able to stay light in the tack and allow Frankie to figure his legs out without needing to interfere. I’m really proud of him for figuring out the game and using his little brain to make adjustments for himself. We all know that despite his infinite good qualities, he isn’t the fastest thinker, so I’m always very pleased when he uses that noggin for activities other than finding snacks.

IMG_1517.jpg
Don’t let his cute face fool you, he is constantly on the lookout for snacks. Despite my No Snack Rule, I caved and gave him an apple that day for being such an excellent goober. Shhh don’t tell anyone.

Random side note- Trainer has decided that she wants pretty much all her actively competing riders to qualify for the VHSA Adult (or Children, as the case may be) Equitation Final this year (to quote her: “I have a bunch of really correct lovely riders, we should absolutely be doing some equitation”), so looks like we’ll be adding some local shows to our calendar to get points for that. We will literally be bringing the classes- you need 3 to fill and we have 3 of each- and Trainer knows all the local show managers, so they’ll be sure to hold the classes for us. To keep costs down, I’m also going to share Frankie with my favorite barn rat for her to do the Children’s while she horse hunts for her next jumper. He can do the 3′ in his sleep and LOVES that kid, so it’ll be a great way for us both to get some local miles without a hefty pricetag. It’ll be a really cool season with the combo of rated jumpers and local eq! We’re definitely keeping Frankie on his toes by asking for lots of different things.

IMG_1493.jpg
We discussed this during our weekly barn happy hour, which directly led to me saying SURE SIGN US UP FOR EVERYTHING jk we all know I don’t need alcohol to fuel my poor financial decisions

And just in case you thought you could make it through one dang post without me going all sappy on you, THINK AGAIN. I’ve been going through lots of old blog posts and pictures as I put together a year-end recap, and it  fills me with so much gratitude that I get to go on all these fun adventures with Frankie. It was two short years ago when I made it around the 2′ puddle jumpers at my first rated jumper show, and daydreamed about getting to compete more often. I’m really having to pinch myself about what I’ve gotten to do with Frankie, and what exciting adventures we have coming up in the next year. Love my barn family (4-legged and 2-legged alike!) for helping me achieve things I never could’ve dreamed of!

 

Barrel Jumpers, Not Barrel Racers

It’s a double post day! Curse my poor planning. But I had such a great lesson, I just want to share it with y’all before the memories fade.

You may have noticed that it’s been a relatively quiet few weeks at the barn. After the pressure of preparing for team finals, we have taken a noticeable step back from our training.

I think that’s been more mental than anything else- I’m still lessoning every week, Francis is still getting at least one training ride every week, we went to a show and XC schooling and we’ve still been working hard.

But we also have not schooled any height since finals and my “homework” rides have been more about enjoying my pony than anything else. This week’s lesson was the first time that we played with tighter turns/combos/bigger fences since we went in for our last round at Culpeper.

And I think that taking a deep breath to relax was exactly what the doctor ordered. Our canter work felt balanced and adjustable, Frankie jumped out of his skin, he carried me forward through the combo, and felt really fresh the entire time (not like, sassy fresh, just energetic in a good way. Because Francis.) I didn’t have to find a spot to the jumps- we had such a great canter and so much adjustability that the spots came up to us. Funny how having the right canter makes everything better, right?

While warming up we did have a moment that warranted some strong correction: Frankie likes to dive left. Even if we’re on a nice straight track to the jump, he will throw himself left over the jump and then immediately fade left upon landing. If I let him. This time I booted him HARD with my spur off the left side as we were warming up, and lo and behold: my horse jumped a straight line. Correcting that firmly early on in our ride made him pay attention the rest of the time. And when we do that, we land our leads/get our changes!

We warmed up with a couple basic exercises, then Trainer jacked the jumps up and gave me this course:

oct12_course

The first “jump” was just one of the brick walls we use as fill, without standards. Frankie was pretty sure that going around was the right answer, so I had to really over-ride this and get him balled up between my leg and hand. I sense more wingless jumps in our future.

Then it was down the single outside- this rode up wonderfully every time, since Frankie was carrying a lovely pace to flow up out of the corner. The short rollback to 3 was tough- I needed to get my left leg on HARD and then straighten with my left rein to get that to work.

Then the bending out over 4 was either a bent 5 stride, or a more direct galloping 4. The first time through I held for 5 and didn’t love it, so the next time I booted up for the 4 and LOVED IT SO MUCH OMG WE HAD FIRE IN OUR STEP.

Then it was down the faux coop- Trainer stacked some cavallettis and put some plywood sheets on them. My job upon landing was to control that left shoulder so that we actually had some straightness to ask for a change.

Then it was up the one-stride and I was honestly thrilled with that. I’ve mentioned before that Frankie tends to back off in combos and needs a ton of support from yours truly. But homeboy must’ve been feeling like a fancypants rockstar, because he galloped right up and carried me through like an absolute professional- even though the oxer out was a big lofty swedish.

IMG_1015
That one in the background. Frankie jump big!

Now for the fun part: it was a bending four strides from the green box down to the barrels. My trainer is a generally nice person, so these barrels were on their sides, with the fake bamboo acting as wings. But she hates me likes to challenge me, so she stood them up and said AIM STRAIGHT.

So I landed off the green fuzzy, locked on…and Francis did a drive by. I’ll be honest, it took us a couple tries to eventually make it over.

But I don’t really count this as a refusal. I genuinely think that Frankie did not realize that he was supposed to jump it. He wasn’t peeking hard or spooking or anything like that, he’s just always gone around the barrels in the ring instead of over. Once we made it over once (with the help of some guide poles), we had zero problem locking on and jumping it like a pro- even after we took the guide poles away. He’s not the fastest thinker in the world, but he is very willing once he understands the game.

IMG_1023
We started trying to get his ears up for the pictures, but AT said “this face is more true to his mood right now.” Poor, long suffering Francis.

Takeaways: we need to practice more wingless skinnies to test our steering! I need to be more active in telling him “yes this is a jump” and he needs to be paying attention enough to say “yes ma’am.”

Another takeaway is to let go and let my horse do his job. He’s so much more educated now and I can trust that education instead of needing to micromanage every step. We are going to be trying some new bits to take advantage of his buttons- remember I mentioned that I didn’t love the slow twist for shows? We’ve got some ideas to play around with so I’ll let you know what we end up using.

I do really wish we had gotten some video from this lesson. Not only did Frankie go SO well, but I had shortened my stirrups a hole. It was a revelation. Everything was better. All of a sudden, a whole bunch of bad habits went away. Like. Guys. The skies opened up and the angels sang. I would love to get a visual to see if it made as much of a difference as it felt like. If nothing else, I felt tons more secure in the tack so it’s for sure a win.

I’d also like to take some official confo shots of Francis soon, maybe this weekend. He got his first clip of the season and honestly AT did such a stupendous job that I want to capture it on camera. He looks like a stud. I also want to do a comparison- we’ve worked so hard on building muscle and developing him, I want to see if there’s a visible difference from last year. I also just want a million pictures of my horse, so sue me.

frankie_side
His Coggins pic from the day we vetted him, March 2016. I def see a big difference in the shape of his body.

Your turn to share! What are some of the stranger looking jumps you’ve done lately?

Eq Lesson Recap

Alternate title: “Olivia, you’re not being timed right now.”

Francis and I were able to fit in an extra lesson this weekend to sharpen up some things, and I was super happy with the Beast. I mean, I’m always super happy with the Beast, but it’s really fun getting to push our comfort zone and work on some different stuff together.

francismanfriend
Unrelated but I’ve got some tall beefy men in my life and Manfriend is delightfully tolerant of the fact that I’m constantly staring at the horse.

Our flatwork involved a major focus on straightness, and riding off the rail to test that straightness. Francis has thoroughly figured out the leg-yield-to-the-rail game and we wanted to get him ACTUALLY listening to my cues instead of assuming he knew what was happening.

We also know that between him and me, our left turns are crap. I don’t know if I’m so lopsided that I’ve made him lopsided, if he was one-sided before and made me more one-sided, or if both of us were lopsided to start and we’ve just fed on each other. Whether the chicken or the egg came first, the fact remains that we are not ambiturners. We worked on a lot of serpentines with the intent to keep our turns smooth and consistent. No making angry faces and speeding up through the left turns because stepping under is hard.

We put some work in on our counter-canter as well, which I really enjoy working on with Frankie. I have to help him get those haunches out of the way around the turns, but he’s got good balance and it doesn’t feel too difficult for him. I’m pretty sure it’s just because he doesn’t care about being on the wrong lead, but I’ll take it. We talked about how I can set him up for it- come off the rail and ask for the bend like we’re turning back to the rail- and AT reminded me that pumping with my shoulders is not traditionally accepted as a canter transition aid. I GUESS.

sunny pic
Literal death grip on the lead because Francis was throwing a tantrum about not being able to eat the grass.

 

On to jumping! Warmup over a little crossrail went relatively well- I’ll never be a huge fan of trot jumps, but we’re getting better at finding forward-but-not-running-at-it. Then a nice big bending line with a focus on straightness over and away from the jumps.

Then we started building our course! The jumps were set to mimic one of the Maclay Regionals- I love this time of year because we end up trying out all the medal courses and it’s a BLAST. We did a different course from the medal so we could focus on what we needed to try, but it was great nonetheless.

sep24_lesson

We started out with the S-turn: red to gray Swedish oxer in 5 or 6, out over green skinny in 5 or 6. Either a 5 to a 5 or a 6 to a 6. We clearly did the 5 to 5 because Francis is a tank. Frankie has a tendency to bulge left so I pushed him right hard over the gray and he responded surprisingly well- so well, in fact, that the 5 out was a little tight because I wasn’t anticipating such a reaction. Happy to see progress there, even if it led to a closer spot out!

Then it was around to the outside line, set in 4 strides. I LOVED how this was set. My trainer is a huge fan of setting short lines for us to help that booty werk, but this one was set on a regular flowing stride. It was lovely. My only job was to keep both legs on so Frankie could stay straight through and land his lead.

Then it was two long approach oxers. Going down 6 was junky every time- either we ended up moving up to a gallop spot, which was adequate but not delightful- or we shortened to a smaller spot, which was fine but not as smooth as I’d like. Nothing disastrous or dramatic, just not as rhythmic as I was aiming for. Balancing through the end up to the gray Swedish the other way went fine every time.

Then it was come back to walk and counter-canter the long approach to blue oxer on the rail. For this I turned early to go between jumps 10 and 11, which set us up to “turn left” to the rail to more easily get the counter-lead. Francis jumped this blue one super cute every time.

The first time through the combo, Frankie assumed he wasn’t jumping it. We got through it just fine- homeboy can walk a 3′ jump- but he was pretty sure that there wasn’t a jump coming up out of that corner. Second time went much more smoothly. The five strides out over the oxer was set short, especially flowing out of a combo, but he sat back nicely for me.

Then it was just a simple rollback to the final vertical- the first time I went around jump 1 to get there, but then decided to go inside the next time. I need to remember to support strongly with that outside rein and leg around left turns to help him out, because we are much more balanced when we do that.

I liked this course a lot! It was a good test of our “togetherness” over a variety of questions. It’s refreshing to take a break from the get-it-done attitude and drill more into getting every piece polished and perfected.

barnacle
Short answer: yes

We’re not trying to qualify for anything or pursue a career in the equitation (literally already missing the jumper ring and I haven’t even done the eq yet)- this outing will be an opportunity to school my horse. Straightness ALWAYS over every jump. Forward pace without getting heavy on the forehand. But like, not too forward because OLIVIA YOU’RE NOT BEING TIMED. No need to rush anything. The eq courses at Culpeper are usually pretty hunterific so we can find our stride and let it flow around the course.

Frankie’s mane is pulled and ready for the braider, I have laced reins instead of rubber on my bridle, and we are feeling good about exploring a new ring together! I can’t wait to let you know how it goes and share pictures.

 

Daybreak Exercises

As part of ramping up to finals, I’m trying to hop in a few extra lessons. The more time I can get my trainer’s eyes on me, the better!

So last week Trainer asked if I wanted to sneak in a weekend lesson. I naturally said, “Of course! As long as it isn’t at 7am or anything crazy like that ha ha ha” you can see where this is going.

Yep. The only time we could fit in was 7am on Sunday.

Like a dutiful idiot, I set my alarm for 5:45am and was bringing Francis in from the field by 6:30 (he’s currently on overnight turnout). He seemed a little confused that he wasn’t immediately getting his breakfast, but was surprisingly snuggly as I was tacking up. Apparently Morning Francis is extra happy.

7am barn
I gotta say, the barn is stunning at the crack of dawn.

Despite the early hour, this ended up being a fantastic lesson! It was a private lesson because I was the only one dumb enough to go along with Trainer’s demonic schemes great ideas so we got to focus in on some specific exercises for Frankie.

One of these is bending/counter-bending along with haunches-in/out on a smallish circle. Moving his bum and asking him to bend through his  body gets him connecting so much more solidly to that outside rein. I think part of that connection comes from physically asking his body to step under and respond to the aids, but part of it is mental- it tells him that he is not a trail pony today and he needs to engage. Once we get that connection and engagement in our trot work, the impulsion and pace throughout our canter and coursework improves noticeably.

We also had a great canter pole exercise set up: simply three poles on the ground. They were walked at about 3 strides apart, but slightly different distances. We worked on adjusting our stride in there: 3 strides to 3 strides, 3 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 4 strides, 4 strides to 3 strides. So hard, especially with the different distances between them!

The 3-3 was decent- we had to stay balanced to shorten/lengthen a little based on where we were, but nothing crazy. And the 4-4 was ok too- we just came in a little bouncier and held that shorter stride. The 3-4 was definitely hard- we had to really open up for the 3, but immediately ask to shorten in the second half which meant he had to be super tuned into my aids. And the 4-3 was tough too- we wanted to super-collect in strides 1-2 so stride 4 could be powerful enough to set us up for the 3 strides out.

All of these variations tied in so well with what we’ve been working on lately. The biggest thing is that when we collect and bounce through a turn, it allows me to push to the base instead of pulling to the base. And then suddenly the skies open up and the angels sing and Frankie jumps out of his skin and we land balanced and the world is a better place. So I was glad we got to work on an exercise to a) improve my ability to ask for different stride lengths and b) improve Frankie’s sensitivity to those cues so that I get a reaction more quickly.

On to the jumping! Man, I hate trot jumps. I’m not very good at them. I trotted a few x-rails without stirrups last week and Trainer mentioned that I wasn’t very good at it (she said it with love), and I reminded her that I’m not very good at them with stirrups either. Womp womp. Once we managed to fling ourselves over a crossrail with moderate success we moved on to build up the exercise.

And I LOVED this exercise.

7am lesson

 

So a rollback left turn to the end jump, right turn long approach down to the ivy barrels, left up the corner tree jump, bend left up the brick wall, and right turn across the same end jump, turning left to finish. Jumps were big enough to force an effort from Francis without being intimidating.

The first time was….ok. We ended up getting a little chippy to the ivy barrels since I didn’t keep us straight and packaged, which meant that we got a late change through the turn and the tree jump was a bit unorganized. Brick wall was fine, but I overshot my turn to the end jump and Frankie (god bless him) had to scramble a bit to get to the jump.

I made a really nice mixture of mistakes here- sometimes I held too much to the base, sometimes I kicked too much to the long spot, sometimes I faded left, sometimes I drifted right. I’m non-discriminatory in my bad riding.

So we talked about how to fix it. The main image to keep in my head was keeping Frankie on the tracks- straight laterally and connected between my leg and hand. Keeping that image definitely helped me smooth out our track and get more straightness.

The end jump to ivy worked out great- I picked him up and got him off my left leg through the turn, which let me send him up to the base. Because we were straighter and more balanced, we got an early change and a nicer turn to the tree. Brick wall was good, then I sliced the end jump a little right to left instead of trying to line it up straight. That meant our track from brick to end was smoother, and it meant that Frankie knew he was turning left afterwards. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than before!

While it was only 5 jumps and seems like a fairly simple exercise, this was a great test for us. We had to be able to manage tight turns and long approaches, upright verticals and wide fill, and pay attention to our basics- pace, straightness, and connection. Everything came up correctly when we had our basics covered. Funny how that works.

I would lesson again at 7am in a heartbeat! I didn’t realize how much I missed my private lessons.

I loved being doing by 8am too. I took my time cleaning my tack, went to Dunkin and grabbed coffee and doughnuts for the early bird crew, gave Frankie a super intense bath, and just had some bonding time with my horse. He so clearly thrives on that sort of attention and so do I.

Only two weeks until we’re on site for finals! Getting so excited.

Do you like to ride/lesson early in the mornings?

Return of the Lesson Review

A real, bona fide lesson review! With all the craziness going on lately I haven’t really talked in detail about our lessons as much as I used to. I’m excited to dive in a bit!

We’ve been able to ride in our outdoor pretty much every time lately and it. is. amazing. So much more room to spread out, less congestion in the ring, more options, great footing, I could  go on and on about how much we love this ring. The only minor gripe I have is that when the wind is blowing, it gets harder to hear my instructor calling out instructions. I swear it doesn’t take me that long to halt once I know I’m supposed to. But honestly that’s the only thing I can think of that isn’t amazeballs wonderful.

Frankie warmed up really nicely in this lesson- he got up in front of my leg, stayed pretty light in the bridle, and gave some nice bend through his body. I was trying to stay focused on straightness in my own body to help him out– I know that I get in his way pretty often and I’d like to be less terrible about that.

One exercise that I liked was canter-extend the gait- collect the gait-hand gallop-halt. We have a nice canter- I think it’s Frankie’s best gait naturally, and we’ve been able to get more “jump” in his stride over time- he extends calmly, our collections have gotten much stronger, and he hand gallops quite happily. That halt is HARD though. I’ve mentioned that our downward transitions need work and that was really highlighted here. It’s not that Frankie has anything against stopping (holding still is his second favorite thing, right after eating), but stopping well requires effort and MAHM NOOOO.

halting.gif
I like to help him out by throwing my upper body from side to side.

We warmed up over a small crossrail, and the only reason I mention this is because Frankie LAUNCHED over it the first time. Like, head between the knees staring at the jump as he popped 4′ in the air. Over the world’s tiniest crossrail. Because that was definitely the scariest biggest thing we’ve ever jumped.

Once we got that out of the way though, he was absolutely flippin’ fantastic. I had a lot more horse under me than I have lately- the cooler temps (it was down to 80F!) definitely helped, but I do think he’s responding well to our conditioning program as well. Some of the tighter spots actually ended up riding really nicely.

jul30_warmup
The trick for the first exercise was to slice 1 a little right to left, to bend us out towards the rail.

Our first exercise was a simple trot-in-canter-out bending line at 10 strides. We wanted to shape it enough to let us line both jumps up perpendicularly, while maintaining a direct enough track to get exactly 10. That was definitely tough for me- I’m not great at counting past 7 or 8 in a line and this forced me to emphasize straightness and rhythm.

crossrailline
This is the crossrail he launched. You can tell how he really hung on to that tension.
july30_course1
Long course alert!

Next we did the same bending line (in 9 once we started to canter in), up the single on the long side, down the one-stride combo, inside turn to get back around to the end jump, left to continue over the brick wall towards home, up the ivy barrels bending out over natural, red vertical bending out over tree jump.

cutejump
Brick wall towards home rode really nicely every time

That dang combo gave me no end of trouble. I would land off of the red vertical and have a strung out horse, and I didn’t work hard enough to wrestle him back into some semblance of a balanced stride. It got moderately better but I need to work harder there.

That inside turn got a whole heck of a lot smoother when I shifted both hands to the inside. That made it a lot more clear to Frankie where exactly I wanted him to go- we all know that he’s happy to do anything as long as I’m clear about what that is.

I hadn’t walked either of those last two lines/Trainer hadn’t mentioned what they should be, but both ended up being sixes, albeit of different stride lengths (a flowing 6 for the ivy-natural, and a more controlled 6 for the red-tree). Frankie listened really well in both places when I asked for him to rate forward and back.

jul30_course2

Our last course was as follows: end jump, left over brick, right over tree; up the combo; down red to tree; up ivy; break to trot and out over the skinny.

That blasted combo gave me just as much trouble in this direction. I had decided I wanted a closer spot in but just kinda….took my leg off and did nothing. BECAUSE THAT’S USUALLY THE RIGHT ANSWER.

badcombo
Yeah, doing nothing and letting my horse bail me out is definitely sustainable.

The other tough part here was the trot jump. I already mentioned that I had more horse under me than usual, and so the first time through this it ended up looking like ivy jump-canter-canter-trotWHATNOCANNOT-ittybitty canter-skinny jump-snort because we are very pleased with ourselves.

trotjump
I don’t know what this was, but it was not a trot jump.

Yeah, we went back and tried that again- this time with a few actually discernible trot steps that weren’t fading completely left. This was another valuable exercise for us, and again highlighted those downwards transitions.

trotjump_2
It got…better? Even if it still wasn’t quite trotting.

We need to strike a balance between getting Frankie fired up to the jumps, while still tuned in to me and responsive to my cues. We’re pretty good at both separately- we just need to put those pieces together so that we can have snorty happy pony who also knows how to trot in a straight line.

I can always tell when Frankie is thinking hard about the work we’re doing when he starts (1) prancing at the walk (2) asking to canter before I tell him to and (3) getting SUPER round and soft onto the bit and offering a lot of collection. It’s a great feeling to get that sort of mental and physical engagement from him.

spicy
EXCEPT CAN YOU GIVE ME A DANG SECOND TO PICK UP MY REINS YA DINGUS

So areas to focus on: downwards transitions, getting our stride back instead of getting strung out, and generally trying to be better at this whole “riding” thing.

What have you been working on lately?

 

What’s New, Francis?

I anticipated some sluggishness from Frankie for a little bit due to the increased training workload, but homeboy has been a star!

I’ve been conquering my fear of trail rides at least 1-2x a week lately, and he is one happy camper. We can have golf carts zoom up our butt (our barn is in a golf course community, so they’re a pretty common sight), bunnies hurl themselves across our path, helicopters flying overhead, and he keeps bopping around on the buckle barely flicking an ear. I’ve been making a point to seek out hills to do trot sets on, and he is just as relaxed as he is at the walk. This is nothing new for him and he’s demonstrated his steadiness on trails before, but getting out there more consistently has been great for my own confidence outside the ring- you all know that I’m a huge baby in unconfined spaces.

trailride_ears
You can definitely tell from his ears just how hot and electric he is. 

In our lesson two weeks ago, it was unbearably hot. Absolutely brutal. But like the unicorn he is, Frankie went around the ring and didn’t put a foot wrong. He needed a little more support from me to get that energetic canter we’re always searching for, but we were able to focus on straightness through his body to get some really nice efforts. Considering I saw a lot of other horses exhibiting some tantrum behavior that day due to the heat (I can’t even blame them), it was that much sweeter to have Frankie going so consistently. As usual, I found my pace somewhere in the middle of my course- I need to get that off the bat instead of taking 2-3 jumps to manufacture it. It’s another case of Frankie giving me exactly what I ask for and not an inch more or less. When I ask, I receive. It’s about time I get my head out of my butt and ask already.

He’s also been rising to the occasion in our flatwork sessions. I’ve been making a point to ask for more consistent contact with plenty of stretch breaks, instead of the other way around. I’ve been throwing in more counter-canter to help develop some better balance and feel around our turns, which has been going quite well. I’m working on asking more deliberately for my leads and helping him re-balance using my seat instead of my hands. We’ve also been trying to include lots of downwards transitions- he’s very prompt with his upwards transitions (as long as he’s in front of my leg HAH), but likes to dive on his forehand into his downwards. I’m focusing on keeping his weight rocked back so that we can move forwards into the downwards, instead of him pulling me forward out of the tack. This has a ways to go to be really consistent, but I’m confident we’ll get there.

room_art
Unrelated but I just love all the different things I have up on my walls. Yes, that small one is a print of Paul Revere on a velociraptor. And no, I’m not sorry for having 3023498 books by my bed.

This week Frankie was absolutely 100% My Little Pony. It was a bit of a rough week for a couple reasons (Manfriend is a cop now and scary situations come with the territory- he’s totally fine but I’m still a bit shaken) and I was feeling a little emotionally raw. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing, but I swear Frankie could tell. He was SUPER snuggly and affectionate on the ground and was such an ultimate packer in my lesson.  Of course he’s always sweet and a good boy, but this was some next level love. It really felt like he was checking in with me every few minutes to make sure I was doing ok. We’ll get back to training harder shortly, but I’m grateful that we had a day of horse therapy where I was able to rely entirely on my horse and trust that he would take care of me.

In non-riding related Frankie news, I finally bit the bullet and put him on a Smartpak. His hooves aren’t in great shape due to the crap weather this year- he’s been in glue-ons and pads up front for a few cycles now and has basically a prosthetic reconstructed hoof on his right front (LOL BYE MONEY)- so he’s starting a hoof supplement. I figured as long as I’m tossing stuff in his feed we may as well toss in a joint supplement too- I’m not completely sold on the effectiveness, but it can’t hurt and at this point I’m willing to throw every tool in the toolbox at him. If it supports his joints even marginally, that’s worth it to me. When I made the mistake of complaining, “but he used to be so low maintenance!” to AT, she not-so-gently reminded me that we get to do a lot of cool stuff we couldn’t do before, and that comes with increased care. Touche.

upp_sun_purple
We could not do this last year.

The short version of all of this is that we’re working hard and having fun doing it. I’m feeling confident that we’re setting ourselves up for success for our show at the end of August and beyond!